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ORONO, Maine, Dec. 22 -- University of Maine issued the following news release:
A new University of Maine Center on Aging statewide survey of more than 230 older adults shows that legal needs of aging Maine residents continue to increase at a time when free or low-cost legal aid is scarce.
The study also found that many older adults, the majority over age 70, female and living on less than $20,000 a year, do have legal issues, but don't realize it.
The survey suggests that elders in Maine, particularly those who are homebound, suffer from some sort of disability, or who have limited literacy or English-speaking skills, would benefit from improved access to information from family members or professional caregivers about social service benefits, eligibility and access to free or low-cost legal services.
"Legal Needs Assessment of Older Adults in Maine: 2011 Survey Findings from Key Populations of Older Adults (PDF)" was completed this month for Legal Services for the Elderly (LSE). The agency will use the information to develop ways to reach underserved populations, according to primary authors Len Kaye, director of the Center on Aging and professor of social work, and Jennifer Crittenden, a researcher and fiscal and administrative officer at the Center.
"We see this report as having far reaching implications for Maine's older adult population," Crittenden says. "It provides clear evidence as to the negative impacts of recessionary times on older adults. In short, resource scarcity has influenced the nature of the most pressing legal needs identified by those surveyed. In times like these, issues of access to benefits, healthcare and support programs are often the most important issues for Maine's seniors."
One need in particular that emerged from the survey is a need for an elder rights handbook, according to Jaye Martin, executive director of LSE. "Many other states have handbooks and it is our hope we may be able to identify a source of grant funding to develop a handbook here in Maine," she says. "We have client-education and self-help material, but it is not organized in a handbook form."
Although almost 40 percent of the survey respondents said they use the Internet, the vast majority said they rely on Area Agencies on Aging, social services organizations and mailings for information on legal services.
The survey follows one done in 2010 by the Center on Aging that determined older adults' most pressing legal questions involved understanding Medicaid Part D, and advice on personal finances, estate planning and wills, and housing. Scams, home repair problems, getting or keeping government benefits, debt collection and finding medical services surfaced as the top 2011 issues requiring legal advice.
Martin says problems detected through the surveys may worsen as LSE has experienced funding cuts over the past two years and pending state budget cuts would result in the closure of LSE's Medicare Part D Appeals Unit, which annually helps more than 900 elders get needed prescription drugs.
Those and other emerging needs of underserved elders, including those in growing and aging immigrant population, will be discussed at the 2012 Access to Justice Symposium in South PortlandJan. 25-26 sponsored by the Maine State Bar Association, Maine Bar Foundation and its Justice Action Group, and the University of Maine School of Law.
A U.S. Administration on Aging grant supported the studies. For free legal assistance, seniors in Maine can contact the LSE Helpline at 1-800-750-5353 or visit the website for information at www.mainelse.org.
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